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10 Best Cheap American Cars To Turn Into Dragsters

Red Fox Body Mustang

Drag racing is as embedded in American culture as apple pie, baseball, and barbecue. There are approximately 450 drag strips in the United States, and 120 of these are members of the NHRA (National Hot Rodding Association). Combine that with small town kids racing on back roads and the stoplight races that take place every night on the high streets across America, there are millions of Americans lining up to race.



So how do you get involved in America’s noisiest pastime…and on a budget? Ten uniquely American rides with a few simple adjustments will take everyone to the 1/4 mile starting line or tour their V8s against their friends at the nearest stoplight.

10 1981-1988 Dodge Diplomat

For anyone born before the 1980s, the Dodge Diplomat could be a foreign name. These cars are all but forgotten, like most mainstream commuter cars from the 1980s. They were mostly used in taxi and police services, with low civilian sales. So why a Dodge Diplomat?

The police package. Dodge Diplomats equipped with the Police Package had a 318 cubic-inch V8, larger carburetor, a heavy-duty rear end and limited-slip. A Diplomat could easily accept parts from an A-Body Mopar, a renowned platform in drag racing. A quality Dodge Diplomat could drive less than $2,000, good luck finding one. Unfortunately, many of these cars were crushed in the money for the clunkers program.


9 1991-1996 Chevrolet Caprice

Any American muscle fan or up-and-coming car fan is familiar with the legendary 1990s Impala SS, if not, check out YouTube and hundreds of videos about the Black Muscle sedan will grace the screen. The Chevrolet Caprice was the car the Impala SS was based on and can be found for a fraction of the price. The 9C1 Police Pack was also mechanically identical to the Impala SS, equipped with the venerable LT1 and enough heavy police parts to even make Jake Elwood blush.

There is no shortage of parts for this one, given their fleet usage and use of the small block Chevy engine and 4L60 transmission. Good examples can vary everywhere from $3,000 to $7,500 for an extraordinarily beautiful example. With an ample supply of cheap bolts, there’s no doubt that the Caprice would be a great option for getting to the stoplight sleepers near you.

Related: 10 Things Gearheads Forgot About The Chevrolet Impala SS

8 1998-2012 Ford Crown Victoria

The Ford Crown Victoria needs no introduction, most American and Canadian readers have probably owned one. Most of these cars are now retired and are still hitting the market at killer prices, even with today’s high prices. The Crown Victoria was equipped with the proven 4.6 Ford V8, and police models had all the advantages such as limited-slip, lowered ride height and reinforced suspension. Mustang GT parts shoot right up to the Crown Victoria, and there’s a whole host of cosmetic parts to brighten up the otherwise drab exterior.

The prices for these cars are everywhere depending on the region, the condition of the car and whether it was in fleet service or not. Prices usually start at $3,000 and can go up to $20,000 for collector editions such as the Mercury Marauder or the LX Sport trim.

7 1973-1977 Chevrolet El Camino

The old cliché “business in the front, party in the back” couldn’t be more true than when the El Camino winds down the quarter mile. This generation is usually the cheapest on the market today, but it comes with a price. Emissions equipment from the 1970s starved the small-block V8s for power, with the top-spec V8 peaking at just 245 horsepower.

However, some engine massage and a new exhaust system would give the El Camino the power it deserved. Performance parts for this are relatively easy to find and install. Examples of these can be found for various price points from: $7,000

Related: A Glimpse of What a Modern Chevy El Camino Might Look Like

6 1988-1998 Chevrolet C/K 1500

Dubbed the OBS (Old Body Style) by enthusiasts, this truck is proving to be a favorite of both small-town muscle fans and high school parking lots. Equipped with the proven 350-cubic-inch V8 and a four-speed transmission, these trucks share the same powertrain as many classic muscle cars.

Parts for any of these trucks can be found at any major parts store, junkyard, or roadside in the southern United States. Bolt-ons are cheap and easy, and there’s no shortage of engine swap options, from a 454 big block in a box, junkyard Vortecs and all types of LS engines. The OBS fits them all. The only downside is that prices are going up, these trucks have a increase in price over the past few years, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to fall any time soon. Good examples can be found for around $5,000and watch for transmission problems in the later models.

5 Every year Chevrolet S10/GMC Sonoma

Yes, this is the last Chevy truck on this list. The only truck with cheaper parts than the C/K series is the Chevrolet S10 and its identical twin, the S15. Trucks were equipped with everything from a bloodless straight four to the reliable Vortec V6.

The glory in the S10/S15 is the ease of swaps. Small block Chevy’s and LS motors fit right in, with little modification needed to make the motors fit. There’s a whole host of bolt-on parts for the stock V6 and for the V8 swaps, and plenty of exterior tweaks to brighten up the exterior. Good examples can be found from $3,000

Related: 2,000 horsepower Chevy S10 is a scary fast truck on the drag strip


4 1994-2004 Ford Mustang

Chances are, a high school student in an SN-95 tried to race you for a red light. A favorite of high school gearheads, and for good reason.

The SN-95 Mustang came with a variety of engines, from a V6 to the classic 5.0-liter V8, the now-famous 4.6-liter V8, and a 5.4-liter V8 if you had the money to buy. to drop a Cobra R. All bikes have enough fast parts and enough exterior tweaks to make the Honda Civic jealous. There is a car for everyone produced over such a long period of time. Good examples can start with $5,000

3 1970-1976 Plymouth Duster

The Plymouth Duster is royalty among drag racing fans, with plenty in the pits of every drag strip across the country. The Duster was offered with a variety of engines, starting with the gas-saving 198-cubic-inch Slant Six to the fire-breathing 340-cubic-inch V8. Big block swaps are easy, with many kits offered online to make the swap easy.

Another great thing about the Duster is the fact that it’s not huge…unlike most cars in the area. The Duster weighed less than 3,200 lbs and has similar dimensions to a modern mid-sized car. Good examples with an oblique six can be found for $3,000but expect to pay three times that for a V8 model.

2 1975-1979 Chevrolet Nova

It is known that older Novas are almost impossible to get on a budget. Car collectors picked them all up, racers cut them up, or they wrapped them around telephone poles. However, the Malaise-era Nova can still be found for a decent price…although it needs some massage, just like the El Camino.

Every small-block Chevy performance part connects to the anemic 190-horsepower 350-cubic-inch V8. Work on the fuel supply and exhaust can get this car up to 300 horsepower in no time and at a price you won’t part with. Good examples with smaller V8s or Inline 6s can be found under the $5,000 marking.

Related: Nova vs. MR2 Drag Race Exhausts American Muscles Against a Japanese Sleeper

1 1979-1991 Ford Mustang

Should have seen this one coming, and there’s a reason the Fox Body Mustang is proving to be so popular on the strip. The car is incredibly lightweight to start, a light diet can bring the car under 3,000 pounds. The stock V8 only produced 220 horsepower, but there’s no shortage of customizations for the 5.0 V8, from street-legal bolts to just tires and camshafts. LS swaps also remain a popular option, much to the dismay of Ford fans across the country.

Good examples with a V8 can still be found for $7,000 with some hunting. Don’t walk, but run… prices have been rising in recent years.